A collaborative first: Crafting UnionBank of the Philippines’ first sustainability report

What if a bank can do more?

This was a question posed to the executives and employees of UnionBank of the Philippines (UnionBank), a publicly listed universal corporate and retail bank in the Philippines, that provides financial services to top corporations, retired pensioners, and small and medium enterprises.

With the help of Drink Editorial and Design, Inc. (Drink), a Manila-based sustainability communications agency, and The Purpose Business (TPB), a Hong Kong-based sustainability consultant, UnionBank developed its first standalone sustainability report titled Driven by a Higher Purpose, which detailed the bank’s economic, environmental, and social performance and impacts for 2016.

It was the first sustainability report among financial institutions in the Philippines that was prepared according to the latest iteration of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Standards, the most widely-used sustainability reporting framework in the world. UnionBank’s revitalized sustainability framework hinged on three pillars: People, Planet, and Purpose. TPB validated this sustainability framework, while Drink brought this sustainability framework to life through compelling storytelling and design.

UnionBank 2016 Sustainability Report
UnionBank 2016 Sustainability Report
Challenges
• To help UnionBank of the Philippines develop its first standalone sustainability report (previously, this data had been embedded in the company’s Annual Report)

• To familiarize the UnionBank reporters with the (then) newly released GRI Standards 2016, which will serve as the reporting framework

• To concretize UnionBank’s revitalized sustainability framework through human interest stories, as well as informative and engaging visual design

Insights
• As a 35-year-old institution, UnionBank had the bane and boon of longevity: According to a Boston Consulting Group study of 35,000 publicly-listed corporations, the average lifespan of companies is 35 years. However, the study added, the secrets to a longer corporate life are innovation, reinvention, and living a purpose beyond profit.

• To fully transform into a digital-first bank and remain agile for the next 35 years, UnionBank recognized the importance of embedding sustainability into its operations. To reinvigorate its purpose, UnionBank revisited and revitalized its existing sustainability framework.

• UnionBank also endeavored to release a standalone sustainability report to reinforce and mark its progress on its commitments. This report could serve as an example for other financial institutions in the country to improve their transparency and jumpstart their own sustainability journey.

• Collaboration between Drink and UnionBank’s Technical Working Group (TWG) facilitated the reporting process. Through interviews, Drink helped UnionBank’s TWG review their processes and break down their sustainability performance. This resulted in well-articulated management approaches and a more focused report.

• Creative storytelling and design proved instrumental to effectively communicating the sustainability performance and impacts of UnionBank, consistent with the GRI Framework.

Actions
• TPB and Drink conducted an extensive stakeholder engagement to better understand the issues and topics that are material to the key stakeholders of UnionBank.

• UnionBank established a dedicated Technical Working Group (TWG) and Sustainability Advisory Council (SAC) to steer the bank’s sustainability initiatives and guide the development of the bank’s sustainability report.

• Drink, at the behest of UnionBank’s Sustainability Officer, hosted a kickoff activity to orient the TWG on the reporting process and align expectations. The workshop, a combination of discussions and creative exercise such as clay-molding, allowed the TWG to visualize, plan, and embrace the process of sustainability reporting. What seemed daunting at first became more manageable after the kickoff activity.

• Interviews with the bank’s key stakeholders provided insights which served as fuel for our storytelling and design. Drink recommended and developed special features that highlighted and humanized the bank’s material topics and issues in sustainability. These included narratives about the bank’s employee-driven social responsibility program GoBeyond Communities (GoBeyond Communities: Employee-driven, Community-centered) and about the bank’s subsidiary City Savings Bank and its teacher-clients (City Savings Bank: 50 Years of Keeping it Simple, and Teachers Tell Their Stories).

• Drink created design elements, in the form of patterns, that embody the three pillars of Unionbank’s sustainability framework.

Purpose: Diagonal lines that signify action, drive, and innovation. A progressive set of points that express the innovative edge of the brand. Unending connections that unify significant elements towards a purpose.

Planet: Ripples that signify change-making environmental impacts—products of purposeful actions. They are textural elements that visualize the far-reaching effects of a move and the life in a unit.

People: Circles that signify equal importance of individual employee growth and overall community development. A shape with a dualistic quality, capable of signifying a sole element, and a collective body.

Results
• UnionBank designed a revitalized sustainability framework. With Drink’s guidance, UnionBank simplified and streamlined its design so that stakeholders can easily appreciate and understand the bank’s sustainability strategy. Design elements used for the report also embody the bank’s sustainability strategy consisting of People, Planet, and Purpose.

• UnionBank developed a long-term sustainability roadmap that details the goals and objectives the bank intends to achieve under each sustainability pillar.

• UnionBank launched its first standalone sustainability report on May 2017. This report, titled Driven by a Higher Purpose, was recognized at the 16th Philippine Quill Awards in July 2018, taking home an Award of Merit for Corporate Writing.